Questions and Answers - March 5
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Teachers and Support Staff, Payroll—Minister’s Statements
1. TRACEY MARTIN (NZ First) to the Minister responsible for Novopay: Does he stand by his statement of 11 February 2014, “education payroll is the most complex in New Zealand and more work remains to be done to simplify the business processes to ensure it runs as smoothly as possible each year”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Minister responsible for
Novopay: Yes, the ministerial inquiry found that the school payroll system is hugely complex, particularly for end-of-year and start-of-year pays. For instance, at the start of the year, 80 percent of all staff on the payroll have adjustments to their pay. There are currently around 80 separate allowances for teachers and 99 allowances for principals. That is 99 different allowances applying to different principals under several different collective agreements, and those can change at any time, depending, for instance, on the number of staff who are employed in the school. Teachers who have changes made at the start of the year may have had their allowances expire, they might be on fixed-term contracts, or they might be on contracts that go from one term to the next. All of these have to be restarted at the beginning of each year, and it is not surprising that there is the odd error when 80 percent of all teachers have changes to the payroll at the start of the year.
Tracey Martin: Can he confirm that the education payroll is no more complex than when it was under the previous payroll providers Multi Serve and Datacom?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That is likely, but under those systems there were considerable errors. In fact, for many reasons, it would be a good idea to simplify the payment of teachers so, for instance, there are not 99 separate allowances payable to school principals. I think a lot of teachers and a lot of the people responsible for data entry in the schools would like to see a simpler way of paying teachers so that there are no errors.
Tracey Martin: Is he aware that under Novopay, many teachers cannot match a single payslip from the last 15 months to deposits in their bank accounts and are unable to identify the cause of the problem in order to rectify it; if so, what confidence can he have in the error reports that he is currently receiving?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Crown and the Minister of Education must meet their obligations to pay teachers. There is no choice about that. If teachers believe they have not been paid the right amount, then there is now a fairly comprehensive process set up to ensure they are paid correctly, because that is a legal obligation of the Crown. I would say, though, that it will be less expensive for the Crown, more certain for teachers, and certainly less costly for the payroll system if we could negotiate collective agreements that are significantly less complex than the ones that currently apply. Large amounts of resource were spent under the previous administrative system correcting continuous errors in pay.
Tracey Martin: Can he confirm that the 2013 payroll error reports are now overdue to schools and that as many of the 2012 reports themselves were incorrect, they now require double-checking by schools.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I cannot confirm that. What I can confirm though is that the complexity of the payroll, which was previously buried in an expensive system run by Datacom, is now obvious to every school. In the long run all our interests will be better served by negotiating a collective agreement that does not have 99 different changeable allowances for school principals.
Chris Hipkins: Did he state last year when he became Minister responsible for Novopay: “I want to see within three months the situation where, as much as possible, workloads for administrators are back to where they were before this thing started,”; if so, is he satisfied that he has delivered on that promise?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes. The error rates on this massive, complex payroll are now well under 1 percent, and the Minister is satisfied that he has delivered on undertakings. It can be improved now only by making the underlying collective agreements less complicated than they are.
Tracey Martin: Is he aware of a school in Rodney that has lost $29,000 out of its operations grant following the failure of Novopay’s debt collection arm to collect overpayments from support staff, some of whom were non - New Zealanders and have subsequently left the country?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am not aware of that particular case, but the Minister is certainly aware of the problem of overpayments and debt collection, and considerable effort has been applied to try to resolve that on behalf of schools. Again, the pay arrangements for teachers are more complicated than for almost anyone except the police. In both cases we would get better results for everybody with much less complicated collective agreements.
Tracey Martin: Can we take from his answers that the National Party believes in flexibility inside of education for everybody apart from teachers and their payroll?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No. The Government believes it needs to meet its legal obligations to pay people who work hard, who educate our children, and who contribute much to New Zealand’s economic and social development, and we will do everything we can to meet those obligations—in fact, more than what we can; we actually have to meet the obligations. I am simply making the point that in the longer run teachers would be better off, the Government would be better off, and the system would be much less expensive if we could simplify the arrangements. There is simply no justification for 99 separate allowances for school principals. That is nuts and we should try to change it.
2. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement that “the true builders of that future are the millions of New Zealanders working in the homes, the businesses, the industries of our country”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, I stand by that statement. But, just to be technically correct, the member should note that the statement was from the Speech from the Throne that was actually delivered by the Governor-General in December 2008.
Hon David Cunliffe: What is the Prime Minister doing to protect our sawmilling industry as 400 sawmill workers’ jobs are currently on the line at Southern Cross Forest Products in South Otago because it has gone into receivership?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am just not briefed on that particular situation, but what I would say is that the Government has been working very hard, actually, to make sure that the economy is efficient, productive, and working well, and that all of those factors are in play, which is why our economy is the envy of so many other countries around the world.
Hon David Cunliffe: Since the Prime Minister—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Supplementary question, the Hon David Cunliffe.
Hon David Cunliffe: Since the Prime Minister did not notice those 400 jobs that were in danger, what about the 120 workers who lost their forestry jobs at the Tachikawa Forest Products sawmill in Rotorua months ago, or the more than 10 workers who lost their lives in the industry in the last 13 months?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It is good news that the member is focusing on people who might lose their jobs. In any one given—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The level of interjection coming for this answer is now completely— [Interruption] Order! The Prime Minister should not start that way, but when he was given a question that started the way it did, then the Opposition could expect the sort of answer the Prime Minister is giving.
Hon Shane Jones: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can you elaborate on what you found offensive about that question?
Mr SPEAKER: I did not find anything offensive. Otherwise I would have ruled it out of order. But if you recall the wording of the Hon David Cunliffe, he said words to the effect “Since the Prime Minister does not know of that incident”, and then led into his question. They were— [Interruption] Order! They were unnecessary to the question and, because they were given in the question, they invite a very wide response from the Prime Minister.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The labour markets in New Zealand are very dynamic and in any sort of 3 month period around about 100,000 jobs are created and somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 jobs in any similar period can be lost. But what we do know is that the economy is growing, 1,500 people a week are leaving welfare for work, the economy is showing—and the unemployment rate is falling. It is one of the reasons that consumer and business confidence is rising, but there will always be some companies that shed employees for a variety of different reasons, and we know that one of those companies could be an organisation called the Labour Party.
Hon David Cunliffe: Were the 52,000 New Zealanders who have left for Australia since he took office helped by the fact that this Government presided over the closing of the Hutt and Hillside engineering workshops after KiwiRail awarded contracts to offshore manufacturers rather than to New Zealand producers?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: For a start off, it is pleasing to see that we are now on a record 10-year low of New Zealanders leaving for Australia. It is equally true that if we look at the unemployment rate in New Zealand, it is currently 6 percent and the participation rate is far higher than Australia’s, which is—although its official rate is 6 percent, if it had the same participation rate, in fact its unemployment rate would be over 10 percent. I am surprised that the member is actually raising these individual items without getting to his feet to talk about the many, many thousands of New Zealanders who are gaining jobs each week.
Hon David Cunliffe: Since the Prime Minister is now making up future unemployment rates, would he like to make up some asbestos regulations so that imported Chinese locomotives do not poison New Zealand railway workers?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: As I said to the member yesterday, that is in breach of the contract. I have seen a report today that says that there are no harmful effects, but that is a matter for KiwiRail, ultimately, to do things. But what I would be interested in doing is not—not, I say—making up the two names of people who gave David Cunliffe money. I would be interested in finding out exactly who they are. Why does not the member tell us? If it is Kim Dotcom, why does he not just say it is him?
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order. It will be heard in silence.
Hon David Cunliffe: The Prime Minister is establishing himself as a fantasist in the public’s mind, but that—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can the member please resume his seat. I have invited the member to raise his point of order. I have told the House that this point of order will be heard in silence. The member needs to now raise the point of order.
Hon David Cunliffe: The question is one of relevancy and whether the Prime Minister’s conjecture has anything to do with the question of asbestos regulation. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I do not need assistance from the Prime Minister. The difficulty the member has is the way he asked his question. He led into the start of his question by saying “Since the Prime Minister is making it up …”. If the member wants a clear, concise answer, as I told him yesterday, he needs to ask a clear and concise question. [Interruption] I have addressed the matter.
Hon David Cunliffe: What is the Prime Minister doing to ensure that specialist industries such as rail, construction, and boatbuilding have any future under his Government when KiwiRail gives contracts overseas and ferries are built in Bangladesh, not in New Zealand?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: There has been a very broad range of initiatives undertaken by the Government through the Business Growth Agenda, and what we know is that they are working. If you look at the BNZ-Business New Zealand Performance of Manufacturing Index, which is the best reflection of manufacturing, we know that month after month after month—I think for the last 14 or 15 months in a row—we have seen an increase in manufacturing output in New Zealand. What we also know is that from time to time New Zealand companies will bid on a contract that they will not get because someone will be able to provide it at a much cheaper rate. On the advice that I saw in relation to the ferry that the member actually asked the question about, it was multiples more expensive if it was built in New Zealand. So if the member is telling us and telling New Zealand taxpayers that the way that he would run the show is to spend enormous amounts of money buying only New Zealand products, that is interesting on two fronts.
Hon David Cunliffe: What about the tax on the jobs?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, I tell you what, let me just finish this point, because you might find it quite interesting. The first point would be that taxpayers would be paying a lot more. The second point the member is making is that New Zealand companies should buy only New Zealand products, but when Australian supermarkets wanted to buy only Australian products, that member went nuts.
Hon David Cunliffe: Can the Prime Minister understand why the unemployment rate has now climbed to 9.3 percent in the Bay of Plenty, and what steps is he taking to assist the kiwifruit industry and those workers who are bearing the personal tragedy of the Psa disease in terms of lost jobs?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Two things. Firstly, the moment Psa was discovered, the Government put in, I think off the top of my head, $25 million, which was matched by the industry. We worked very hard to make sure that the kiwifruit growers were back on their feet. I have met with quite a number of them and the industry over the years. My understanding is that they are doing a lot better, but obviously it has been a very tough time. But one thing I will say is that we take about 8,000 people a year on the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme, which works heavily in the horticulture sector, including, obviously, kiwifruit. My understanding is that that sector is lobbying the Minister very aggressively for an increase because it is so busy it cannot get enough staff.
State-owned Energy Companies, Sales—Progress of Share Offer
3. MAGGIE BARRY (National—North Shore) to the Minister of Finance: What progress is the Government making with its share offer programme, which is freeing up money for reinvestment in new public assets without having to increase Government debt?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Last week the Government confirmed that the last of its share offers for a minority shareholding in Genesis Energy will proceed later this month. The offer is expected to open in the second half of March, with the company likely to be listed on the market around mid-April. All of this, of course, is subject to market conditions. We will set out
the details for the float over the next few weeks. As with the other share offers, New Zealanders will be at the front of the queue, and we remain committed to at least 85 percent Kiwi ownership. The Genesis Energy share offer will be structured to meet the Government’s objectives of achieving good value for taxpayers as well as providing opportunities for New Zealand investors.
Maggie Barry: What were some of the Government’s objectives for the share offer programme, and have those objectives been met?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: One of the objectives was to enable the Government to finance new infrastructure with the savings of New Zealanders rather than by borrowing from foreign banks. There were also a number of other objectives. We wanted to help to deepen the capital markets so that as New Zealand goes into a growth phase, more New Zealand businesses can go to the public market to raise the capital they need in order to invest in New Zealanders’ skills and higher incomes in the future. It has also enabled us to free up money for reinvesting in priority public assets like schools, hospitals, and ultra-fast broadband. So far we have raised around $4 billion to do that, and that is $4 billion of New Zealanders’ savings rather than $4 billion of borrowing from foreign banks.
Maggie Barry: What are some of the features of the Genesis share offer that will help build interest among New Zealand investors?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is obviously up to investors to decide what level of interest they take in the share offer, but the Government will introduce new features to the Genesis offer. First, the shares will be priced at the start of the offer period, which means that Kiwi investors know the price when they apply for shares. Secondly, we have expanded the range of what we expect to sell to 30 to 49 percent of the shares, subject to market conditions. The Government wants to be able to test demand in the market before making a final decision. We will also be offering a loyalty bonus scheme and a more succinct investment statement for retail investors.
Maggie Barry: Without the share offer programme, what alternative approaches could the Government have taken to pay for new public assets such as schools and hospitals?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There are other ways of financing it, for instance, increasing taxes or introducing new ones, such as the dopey internet tax the Labour Party is proposing. Another option would be not to invest in these public assets and to tell New Zealanders to make do with what they have. We did not do that. We could have gone out and borrowed $4 billion from foreign bankers, whom the Opposition would rather we do business with, but we chose to go to New Zealand savers. Finally, there is another option. We could have set up a trust and asked for secret donations!
Pike River Mine Disaster—Release of Information
4. ANDREW LITTLE (Labour) to the Attorney-General: Will he release all correspondence between the Christchurch Crown Solicitor or any other solicitor acting for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and counsel for Peter Whittall on the decision not to proceed with the prosecution of Mr Whittall under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 relating to conditions at the Pike River Mine that lead to the deaths of 29 miners; if not, why not?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General): No, because that is not a decision for me to make.
Andrew Little: In light of that answer and in light of the public statement made by counsel for Peter Whittall on Friday, 28 February at 4.23 p.m. that “Neither Mr Whittall nor Mr Grieve have any issue with any of their letters on this matter being made public.”, and thereby waiving their legal professional privilege, why will he not now ensure that that correspondence is released?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The member did not listen, or did not listen carefully, to my answer to his first question. That is not a decision for me to make. Perhaps I can help the honourable member by referring him to the Solicitor-General’s Prosecution Guidelines and the introduction to it by me, which says “Under our constitutional arrangements, the Attorney-General is responsible through Parliament”—
Grant Robertson: This is humble.
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Well, instead of making unpleasant comments, Mr Robertson should listen, because, I am sure Mr Little would agree, this is a very serious matter.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If the Minister could just give his answer, it would be helpful.
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I will go back for a minute, because Mr Little at least is taking this seriously. Under our constitutional arrangements, the Attorney-General is responsible through Parliament to the citizens of New Zealand for prosecutions carried out by or on behalf of the Crown. In practice, however, the prosecution process is superintended by the Solicitor-General who, pursuant to section 9A of the Constitution Act 1986, shares all the relevant powers vested in the Office of the Attorney-General.
Andrew Little: What information about the state or progress of the prosecution did Cabinet have before it when deciding not to take action to ask the shareholders in Pike River, including Crown entities, to make good the reparation orders made by the District Court on 5 July 2013?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Regrettably, the member did not listen to the first answer to the question. Cabinet did not make a decision, and the implication in his question is deeply constitutionally offensive. These are decisions that are made by the Solicitor-General. Cabinet has no place in deciding on the initiation, the continuance, or the bringing to an end of a prosecution.
Andrew Little: Was the offer on behalf of Mr Whittall, to pay $3.41 million to the families of the dead miners, taken into account in the decision not to proceed with the prosecution and in the subsequent decision to offer no evidence and seek a discharge, the equivalent of an acquittal?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: As I said, these are matters for the Solicitor-General. To the best of my knowledge, when the Solicitor-General and, through him, the Crown prosecutor in Christchurch were determining the matter, that was a factor that was taken into account. But there were a number of matters that meant that the Crown decided not to proceed with the prosecution.
Andrew Little: How was the public interest test, required under paragraph 5.1.2 of the Solicitor- General’s prosecution guidelines of 1 July 2013, met in this case, in light of the clear findings of the royal commission of inquiry of the level of negligence by the mine owner’s officers, leading up to the fatal explosion on 19 November 2010 and the fact that 29 men died at work in one fell swoop, causing widespread public alarm?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Once again, I have to bring the member back to the prosecution guidelines and to the person who makes the decision, and the factors that are taken into account in making the decision. These matters are free from political interference, or at least in a National Government they are.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can I invite you to go back and look at that answer, look at the Cabinet Manual, and look at the Standing Orders, and inform us who is answerable in Parliament for those decisions if it is not the Attorney-General.
Mr SPEAKER: I will accept the invitation from the member, and I will certainly have another look at it.
Southern District Health Board—Dispute with South Link Health
5. KEVIN HAGUE (Green) to the Minister of Health: When were Ministry of Health officials first informed that the dispute between the Southern District Health Board and South Link Health involved allegations of the misuse of public funding, and when were they first informed that this alleged misuse was suspected to involve elements that could be fraud?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): I am advised that this complex commercial dispute is over savings from pharmaceutical and laboratory contracts from 1995 to 2002, and it has been ongoing for over a decade. I am advised that the Ministry of Health has been aware, over all of this time, that Southern District Health Board has had concerns over the agreed and proper use of savings, and that is why there is a dispute. In relation to the second part of his question, I am advised that they became aware of concerns about fraud in late 2013. The member knows that this
matter is now with forensic accountants to see whether there is an issue of fraud, but the member may also be interested to know that the Ministry of Health has advised me that it has seen no evidence that suggests fraud.
Kevin Hague: Does the Minister continue to maintain that he did not know that there were allegations of misuse of funds prior to late 2013, as he answered in this House in the last sitting session, when this fact had been extensively covered by mainstream and specialist health sector media for more than a decade?
Hon TONY RYALL: Yes I do, because, as I said to the member last week, we have searched our records, the ministry’s records, and the records of the district health board and we have found no evidence in respect of that 2010 advice that he talked about. Look, the member can cast as many aspersions as he likes on whatever individuals he wants to look at, but the fact is that the forensic accountants are now looking at this. It will be interesting to see what they come up with, but I have received advice from the Ministry of Health that they have seen no evidence that suggests fraud.
Kevin Hague: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is unclear from the Minister’s answer whether he is answering yes or no to this basic question of whether he is continuing to maintain—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I can assist the member. I heard the Minister say that, yes, he maintains his position.
Kevin Hague: Does the Minister continue to maintain that he did not know that there were allegations of misuse of funds prior to late 2013, when his written answers today show that his own office was communicating directly with the district health board chief executive on multiple occasions about this very issue in 2010?
Hon TONY RYALL: That is because at the time they were seeking to get mediation and arbitration. There had been no advice given to me that there was any fraud associated with that. The member has got to acknowledge that this has been going on for 12 years. It is a very complex situation—
Kevin Hague: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question related to allegations of the misuse of funds, not about fraud specifically—that is a separate matter and a subset. The Minister has been claiming that he had no knowledge prior to late 2013 that there were allegations of the misuse of funds. It would be good if his answer could address that point.
Mr SPEAKER: I am going to invite the member to repeat his question because the Minister had started his answer before he was interrupted by the point of order. Repeat the question please.
Kevin Hague: Does the Minister continue to maintain that he did not know that there were allegations of the misuse of funds prior to late 2013, when his written answers today show that his own office was communicating directly with the district health board chief executive about this very issue on multiple occasions in 2010?
Hon TONY RYALL: I think the member is trying to create some sort of mystery around this use of the words “misuse of funds”. As I said in my main question, the whole issue—
Hon Annette King: The main question?
Hon TONY RYALL: —answer—of this debate over the last 12 years has been whether there has been agreed and proper use of the money. If you want to call that “misuse of funds”, the member can, but all of his questions have been about the issue of fraud. The reason why we are talking about this—
Kevin Hague: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister is effectively trying to litigate the question, rather than answer it.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No. The Minister has addressed the question. The member himself referred to the issue of the misuse of funds. The Minister has addressed the question. If the member has further searching supplementary questions, that is the way that he might get the sort of answer that he is after.
Kevin Hague: Given that the Minister does continue to maintain that he did not know that there were allegations of misuse of public funds prior to late 2013, has he asked ministry officials, district
health board staff, and board members why they withheld that crucial piece of information from him for so long, even though they knew that he would be extremely interested in such claims as a result of his own extensive actions over the massive Michael Swann fraud at this very same district health board?
Hon TONY RYALL: We have been quite clear in every answer to this question that there has been a long period of public awareness that there was an argument over whether the money was being spent for agreed and proper purposes, and I have answered that in the House a couple of times. If the member is talking about fraud, I have been quite clear that a search of my records, the ministry’s records, and the district health board’s records shows that we have not been advised of that—
Kevin Hague: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have listened to quite a bit of the answer—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am going to invite the member to repeat that question.
Kevin Hague: Has he asked ministry officials, district health board staff, and board members why they withheld that crucial piece of information from him for so long, even though they knew he would be extremely interested in such claims as a result of his own extensive actions over the massive Michael Swann fraud at the very same district health board?
Hon TONY RYALL: Officials have been quite clear that they were unaware of those claims of fraud resulting from the 2010 advice that we have talked about previously.
Kevin Hague: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The claims that are referred to are claims that public—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member is now contesting whether that question was addressed. It was addressed.
Kevin Hague: Is the Minister saying that board member of the district health board Richard Thomson is lying when he says that the board referred the matter to the ministry’s audit and compliance unit in December 2010 because Mr Ryall did not want it taken through the courts?
Hon TONY RYALL: Well, certainly, I would reject any suggestion that says that I told the district health board not to take the matter to courts if it was a matter of fraud. No Minister would put themselves in that position.
Kevin Hague: When the Minister claims to know nothing about allegations of misuse of public funds in the dispute, how could he advise former district health board chief executive Brian Rousseau not to take this misuse of funds to court?
Hon TONY RYALL: As the member knows, because it was published in the Otago Daily Times on Saturday, on that matter Mr Rousseau was talking about civil action—not fraud action, but civil action—that the district health board was taking, and my position on all those matters is that we should not have one taxpayer-funded organisation taking another essentially taxpayerfunded organisation to court if there were options for mediation and arbitration. That is the advice that I would always give a district health board in that circumstance.
Kevin Hague: What exactly did the Minister say, and when did he say it, to Brian Rousseau that he interpreted to mean: “Do not take this case to court.”?
Hon TONY RYALL: Well, the member is asking me questions about 3½ to 4 years ago. You would have to ask Mr Rousseau. But if I go by what is in the Otago Daily Times on Saturday, it was before any of this issue in respect of fraud was raised. I think it is a perfectly responsible position for a Minister to say that if there is a matter of a civil case—a contractual dispute—we should not have one taxpayer-funded organisation taking essentially another to court if there is mediation and arbitration available. I know that the Greens are under pressure because of the polls, but they—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That part of the answer will not help this House.
Kevin Hague: In view of the Minister’s impending retirement—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Kevin Hague: —will he instruct the Southern District Health Board and the Ministry of Health to immediately release all the documents I have requested under the Official Information Act, including advice to himself and in-committee board minutes relating to this matter?
Hon TONY RYALL: I think that has got nothing to do with my forthcoming retirement from Parliament, but I have to say that I think the member’s performance on this might be a reason for an involuntary retirement, with the behaviour that we are seeing—
Kevin Hague: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister has not addressed the question at all.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If the member wants a clear and concise answer, he should ask a clear and concise question. There was no need in that question to refer in any way to a member’s intention to retire from this House.
Kevin Hague: Will the Minister support my request to the Auditor-General for an urgent investigation into the role played by him and his ministry in the decision of the Southern District Health Board not to pursue legal channels to recover public funds from South Link Health?
Hon TONY RYALL: I think the member is demonstrating with all this sort of stuff that we really are getting into the election-year period. I would have to say to the member that the forensic accountants are looking at it because of a request by the Southern District Health Board. I think we should wait until the forensic accountants’ results come back, and consider those issues then. The Ministry of Health has advised me that it has seen no evidence that suggests fraud—
Kevin Hague: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister is not addressing the question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will sit down. For just about every question the Minister has attempted to answer we find that the member rises to his feet during the answer. In this particular case, the Minister very clearly addressed the question. He said that you should now wait until the forensic accountancy investigation has taken place. It does not help the order of the House when the member, not getting the answer he wants, continues to rise to his feet and claim that the question has not been adequately addressed when it has been.
Kevin Hague: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Can I just clarify whether the member is in any way questioning a decision I have just made.
Kevin Hague: I am just checking whether you are saying that the Minister has answered as a no.
Mr SPEAKER: The member needs to take time to read the Standing Orders. There is no way he can demand a yes or no answer to any question. In this case, the member asked his question, the Minister very adequately addressed the question, and that is the end of the matter.
Tertiary Education and Skills Training—Tertiary Education Strategy 2014-19
6. Dr CAM CALDER (National) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and
Employment: What announcements has the Government made on the Tertiary Education Strategy for New Zealand?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): Earlier today I launched in Auckland the Tertiary Education Strategy 2014-19, which sets out the Government’s expectations and direction of the tertiary education sector for the next 5 years. The future tertiary system needs to be more outward facing and engaged in order to respond to the international expansion of tertiary education, the needs of a growing economy, and new technologies. That means having strong links to industry, community, schools, and the global economy. The Tertiary Education Strategy is designed to help guide tertiary education investment and the actions needed from the Government, tertiary education organisations, business, and the wider community to significantly improve further our tertiary education outcomes.
Dr Cam Calder: What are the priorities for tertiary education identified in the Tertiary Education Strategy?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The strategy identifies six key priorities: delivering skills for industry, getting at-risk young people into a career, boosting achievement for Māori and Pasifika, growing education linkages, strengthening research-based institutions, and improving adult literacy and numeracy. Good progress has already been made in many of these areas. Since 2008 there has been a rise in the number of full-time students, we are seeing more graduates than ever before and at higher levels, and we had 10,000 new apprentices sign up between March and December of last year. The number of Māori students enrolled in qualifications at Bachelor’s level or higher has increased from 17,500 in 2007 to nearly 29,000 in 2012. The number of Pasifika students enrolled in qualifications at Bachelor’s level or higher has risen from 8,500 in 2007 to nearly 12,000 in 2012. Our tertiary sector must continue to adapt and change in order to provide the skills and qualifications that New Zealanders need in order to contribute in the labour market in innovative and competitive ways.
Dr Cam Calder: How is the Government strengthening research-based institutions?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Alongside the Tertiary Education Strategy I launched today, I also announced changes to simplify and strengthen the structure of the Performance-based Research Fund. The Performance-based Research Fund rewards and encourages excellent tertiary education research by assessing quality, allocating funding based on results, and publishing information on performance. The changes I have announced today are designed to simplify the research assessment process to save time and reduce costs for organisations and research staff; reward tertiary education organisations to attract external research income from international sources or New Zealand industry or not-for-profit organisations or iwi; strengthen public reporting on research performance; and reward tertiary education organisations that recruit, develop, and retain new researchers. We have a system with a number of strengths when compared with other funding systems around the world. These changes will build on those strengths, reduce complexity, and lower compliance costs.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Kia ora tātou. How can the Minister stand by his Tertiary Education Strategy, which provides for Māori achievement and success, when his Tertiary Education Commission is shutting down the only Māori national centre of research excellence, Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member raises a very fair point. The centres of research excellence review is going on at the moment, and the research society of New Zealand is actually doing the work to evaluate those centres of research excellence and determine which should be funded from the end of 2015 onwards. My understanding is that the member notes that that particular centre of research excellence is not, at this stage, proposed for funding. It will be up to the institutions as to how they run them. It is important that this is an independent process with scientists measuring the progress of each of these centres of research excellence and that they are not being assessed by politicians sitting in this Chamber.
Earthquake Commission, Minister—Statements
7. Hon RUTH DYSON (Labour—Port Hills) to the Minister responsible for the Earthquake
Commission: Does he stand by his statement made yesterday in the House with regard to Canterbury Labour Members of Parliament that they “have made no more than five requests for assistance through the Earthquake Commission”; if not, when will he be correcting his statement and apologising?
Hon AMY ADAMS (Associate Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery) on behalf of the Minister responsible for the Earthquake Commission: I can advise that I am prepared to table the advice received yesterday from the Earthquake Commission about the number of emails received from Labour MPs. This advice was not an accurate reflection of a number of requests for assistance from Labour MPs, and for this the Minister unreservedly apologises and will be writing personally to those MPs with his apologies. The Minister will be taking this up with the Earthquake Commission at the highest levels. I seek leave to table the email the Minister referred to yesterday.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular email. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Ruth Dyson: What generated the request to the Earthquake Commission for this information and why?
Hon AMY ADAMS: I do not have that information to hand.
Hon Ruth Dyson: If he is so unaware of the complaints made to the Earthquake Commission by Canterbury Labour MPs, how many thousands of other Cantabrians will be having their complaints to the Earthquake Commission fall on deaf ears?
Hon AMY ADAMS: I cannot speak as to what is in the Minister’s mind, but I can assure the member that the Minister and all of the Government members are absolutely clear in their messages to the Earthquake Commission—that we expect all complaints to be dealt with at an absolute high standard of care.
Poto Williams: Can he confirm that former Labour MP Lianne Dalziel asked for assistance from the Earthquake Commission for Mrs Dot Boyd on 18 June 2013, 8 full months before it was out in the media; if so, when will he be correcting his statement and apologising?
Hon AMY ADAMS: No, I am not in a position to confirm that.
Poto Williams: In light of the incorrect information provided to him and conveyed to Parliament, can he now confirm that this is one of the reasons that he is so out of touch with Canterbury issues?
Hon AMY ADAMS: No, I cannot confirm that.
Hon Ruth Dyson: I seek leave to table from the office of the Hon Clayton Cosgrove a snapshot of referrals from his office to the Earthquake Commission between October last year and February this year; a total of 19 cases with the names deleted—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The document has been well and truly adequately determined. In light of the situation, I am prepared to put that leave. It is a summary of correspondence between the Hon Clayton Cosgrove and the Earthquake Commission. Is there any objection to that being tabled? There is none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Poto Williams: I seek leave to table a summary of contacts that my office has had with Dot Boyd on behalf of the Earthquake Commission—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is equally adequately now described. Leave is sought to table that particular summary. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Information and Communication Technology Programme—Progress
8. MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) to the Minister for Communications and
Information Technology: How is the Government’s Information and Communication Technology programme improving New Zealanders’ access to improved technology and better connectivity?
Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for Communications and Information Technology): This Government’s information and communications technology programme is about enhancing New Zealand’s ability to excel in an increasingly digital world. We are doing this through initiatives like our ultra-fast and rural broadband initiatives, the roll-out of 4G cellular spectrum, and supporting the growth of the information and communications technology sector. The modern infrastructure network we are delivering will provide businesses and individuals alike with a vibrant, competitive platform for innovation and growth. New Zealand has a highly talented and successful information and communications technology sector, and our role is to support it to be innovative and create competitive offerings, not to start from the ideological belief that Governments can do everything better than the private sector and should dictate it all.
Mark Mitchell: Are there approaches to information and communications technology policy the Government has considered and rejected?
Hon AMY ADAMS: I can confirm that the Government will not be taking advice on the creation of its future information and communications technology initiatives from Kim Dotcom. We will not be supporting a Kiwi tax on the Kiwi net. We will not be establishing Kiwi Google. We will not be dictating how much bandwidth each Kiwi gets to use. One thing we definitely will not be doing is forwarding our draft policies to Labour for it to peer review.
Mr SPEAKER: Supplementary question, Grant Robertson. [Interruption] Oh, I apologise— Mark Mitchell. I apologise. I apologise to both members for such an insulting comment.
Mark Mitchell: Apology accepted, Mr Speaker. What recent reports has the Minister seen on potential funding sources for information and communications technology initiatives?
Hon AMY ADAMS: This morning I saw a report in which an internet tax funding option was described by Vodafone New Zealand chief executive Russell Stanners as “crazy and outrageous” and by Telecom as concerning. Mr Stanners went on to say that those behind it “should just go the whole hog and nationalise everything.” The funding initiative he referred to, of course, was the Kiwi con internet tax from information and communications technology supremo “Kiwi” Curran. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! All members have a right to ask a supplementary question.
Clare Curran: They certainly do. [Interruption]
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether the Minister for Social Development, who was interjecting and is now continuing to talk, might like to show some leadership to the rest of them and make them shut up for a minute. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am giving the supplementary question to Clare Curran, and I certainly want to hear the question, so I require silence from this side of the House.
Clare Curran: Given the Minister has been in the role for 27 months and has not announced anything substantive, when should the information and communications technology sector expect to see any new ideas from her?
Hon AMY ADAMS: Well, I certainly reject the allegation in that question, but I can tell the member that when we do announce our ideas they will be ours and not Mr Dotcom’s.
Chris Hipkins: I seek leave to table a briefing from the New Zealand Qualifications Authority sent to Hekia Parata’s office, which was sent to the Labour Party this morning. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I will put the leave. [Interruption] Order! Leave is sought to table this particular document. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Chris Hipkins: I seek leave to table a further briefing from the New Zealand Qualifications Authority to Hekia Parata’s office, which was sent to the Labour Party last month.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am just going to check whether there is any further information the member needs to table.
Chris Hipkins: No, that is sufficient.
Mr SPEAKER: That is enough. I will put the leave. Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is none. It will be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Clare Curran: I seek leave to table an email meant for my office mistakenly sent from Amy Adams’ office to a member of the public.
Mr SPEAKER: I guess we have started on a bit of a pattern here. I have got to put the leave. Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is none. It can also be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Kris Faafoi: I seek leave—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I am waiting for the point of order.
Kris Faafoi: I am waiting for some quiet.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, if the member does not want to carry on, we will move on. If the member—
Kris Faafoi: Yes, I do. I seek leave to table correspondence from the Department of Corrections to the Dominion Post, which was mistakenly sent to Labour.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that information. Is there—there is objection.
Justice, Minister—Visit to China
9. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Justice: On what date did she receive an invitation to visit the Shanghai office of Oravida Ltd during her Ministerial visit to China in October 2013, and what actions did she take to ensure this visit met her obligations under the Cabinet Manual?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Justice): I received a letter of invitation from Oravida Ltd by email on 9 October 2013. The letter states that Oravida “specialises in the promotion and distribution of premium food products from New Zealand”. The letter notes that they “are passionate about improving and enhancing New Zealand’s primary food sector”. I accepted the invitation provided that it could be worked into a schedule of a planned visit to China at the invitation of the Ministry of Justice of the People’s Republic of China. Consent from the Prime Minister for travel to China pursuant to the Cabinet Manual was obtained in August 2013. I had previously told Oravida that it could not use my name or photograph to endorse or promote its business products or services, so I did not take any further steps in respect of that.
Grant Robertson: Given the first part of that answer that she got the invitation on 9 October, why was there no mention in her media release of 16 October or any other publicity prior to travelling to China of her intended visit to Oravida?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The media release is about the major parts of the visit. I was visiting at the invitation of the Ministry of Justice in China and so most of my visits were with that ministry and its organisations.
Grant Robertson: Does she consider that using taxpayer funding to visit and promote a company where her husband is the director may lead to accusations of conflict of interest?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The member’s premise is quite incorrect.
Grant Robertson: Is her husband a director of Oravida Ltd?
Mr SPEAKER: Well, in so far as there is ministerial responsibility—
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: There is no ministerial responsibility, but I would say to that member that if he goes on to the Companies Office website he can find the information out himself.
Grant Robertson: I seek leave of the House to table information from the Companies Office website that indicates that the Hon Judith Collins—
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that information. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Grant Robertson: When she agreed to visit Oravida, did she or her office inform Oravida of her obligations under section 2.87 and 2.89 of the Cabinet Manual to not endorse products or use any photos in a way that could be perceived as an endorsement by the Minister of its products?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I have already answered that in my answer to the primary question.
Grant Robertson: Does she think that Oravida placing on its website two photos of her visit and a description of her “endorsement” of its products constitutes a perception that she might be endorsing it?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: That question is absolutely hypothetical, because if the member goes to the English version, which I have seen—and unlike the member, I am obviously not fluent in Chinese—I would say that Oravida did not say that at all.
Grant Robertson: Point of order—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I cannot assist the member with a point of order when there is so much noise coming from members.
Grant Robertson: I seek leave of the House to table an English translation of the Chinese text on the website that includes the phrase “endorsement”.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table the English translation. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Grant Robertson: Did Oravida Ltd have any involvement in the Minister’s trip to China just 1 month after her visit to the Oravida office, where she addressed the APEC women’s leadership forum, given that Oravida was a platinum sponsor of that event?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I am trying to work out what the member is trying to say and ask— [Interruption] Well, I am trying to work out what the question is. Would he like to have another go—in English, this time?
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am going to deal with the point of order first.
Grant Robertson: There was absolutely nothing about—
Mr SPEAKER: The best way forward is for the member to repeat that question.
Grant Robertson: Did Oravida Ltd have any involvement in the Minister’s trip to China just 1 month after her visit to the Oravida office, where she addressed the APEC women’s leadership forum, given that Oravida was a platinum sponsor of that event?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Certainly not.
Rt Hon John Key: Is the Minister aware of whether Cabinet Office has provided any advice on whether the Minister’s visit to Oravida’s premises in China is in any way a breach of the Cabinet Manual?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Yes, Cabinet Office, I understand, has advised the Prime Minister that my visit in no way contravened the Cabinet Manual.
Grant Robertson: Does the Minister think that visiting a company where her husband is the director, endorsing the product, opening its office in Auckland, and given that it donated $55,000 to the National Party might create in the minds of New Zealanders a perception of conflict of interest?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Again a hypothetical question and, secondly, I am just wondering whether or not I should have taken a trustee with me and got them to drink the milk instead.
Grant Robertson: In light of that answer, I seek leave of the House to table the record of donations that shows that $55,000—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! That will be information that is publicly available.
10. CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green) to the Associate Minister of Education: Did the communities in Christchurch, Auckland and Queenstown, where four schools are to be built using a public-private partnership (PPP) model, ask the Government for private sector management of their school buildings?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development) on behalf of the Associate
Minister of Education: The member is getting ahead of herself. The Ministry of Education simply put out a request for expressions of interest and no contracts have been signed. If the expressions of interest do not result in the best value being delivered, the schools will be built via the traditional Ministry of Education procurement process.
Catherine Delahunty: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did not ask about the expressions of interest process in the business sector. I asked whether the communities, such as the Christchurch one—Aranui, for example—had been consulted.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the member is making a very fair point. Does the Minister require the question to be repeated, because I do not think the question has been addressed. [Interruption] Can the member please repeat the question?
Catherine Delahunty: Certainly, Mr Speaker. Did the communities in Christchurch, Auckland, and Queenstown, where four schools are to be built using a public-private partnership model, ask the Government for private sector management of their school buildings?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, I am not aware that they have necessarily made that request, although I would point out that nearly all management of school facilities has some form of private sector involvement, so I am not sure that the matter would have necessarily come up.
Catherine Delahunty: Were all stakeholder groups directly involved with education in those communities, including the Aranui Community Leadership Group, notified before yesterday’s announcement that tenders would be sought from businesses wanting to manage their school buildings?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I cannot answer that question directly, but again I would say that a simple fact of the situation is that most schools have a form of private sector involvement in the management of their facilities. It would not come as a surprise. We generally do not have armies of Government builders—although we might if Labour and the Greens got in—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The question has been answered at the start.
Catherine Delahunty: Will she rule out allowing international companies to run or manage parts of the New Zealand public school system through a public-private partnership?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, and I would not see why the Associate Minister would. The whole purpose of this is to try to reduce the cost and deliver savings over traditional procurement by the ministry. It is rumoured to be between 2 percent and 8 percent. We will know that through the process. That allows us extra money to spend on the actual education. If the member is saying that it is more important not to have certain types of companies involved than to get a good school facility built and to have more money for education, well, good on her.
Catherine Delahunty: How many other schools have been identified for possible selection as potential public-private partnerships, as suggested in the Cabinet paper released yesterday, and does that mean she will consider existing schools and buildings for private management?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am not aware of any specific cases in that respect, although I am not sure that it would be a shock, horror, or probe to suggest that we are always looking at ways in which we can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the management of school facilities, which is very expensive, and we would prefer to have more money to spend on education than on the maintenance of buildings. If we find better ways of doing that, I cannot see there is a problem with it.
Child Health—Nutrition and Exercise Programmes
11. PAUL FOSTER-BELL (National) to the Minister of Health: What investment is the Government making in improving nutrition and exercise for pre-schoolers?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): Thousands of Waikato preschoolers are now benefiting from a healthy nutrition and activity programme, Under 5 Energize, developed with $1.1 million of Government anti-obesity funding. Around a hundred early childhood centres in the Waikato are now involved with the Under 5 Energize programme, which supports healthy eating and the development of fundamental movement skills for children. It is part of a wider programme investing in maternal and newborn nutrition as recommended by Sir Peter Gluckman.
Paul Foster-Bell: What changes have centres involved with the Under 5 Energize project made?
Hon TONY RYALL: Last week I visited Fairfield Kindergarten in Hamilton with David Bennett and Tim Macindoe, which has been involved with Under 5 Energize, and there has been a marked difference in the types of food coming in with the kids. The staff were also able to identify that their children felt restricted by bad weather when wanting to play outside, so the kindergarten
has now purchased wet-weather gear so that the kids are able to play outside in bad weather. They are also bringing fruit to kindy to share and drinking water is encouraged. It is a very good effort—I am looking forward to the evaluation—and another investment under this National-led Government.
Prisoners—Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation
12. JOANNE HAYES (National) to the Minister of Corrections: What steps has the Government taken to improve access to alcohol and drug treatment for prisoners?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Corrections): I am very pleased to advise the House that there has been a rise of almost 1,500 percent in places on drug and alcohol treatment programmes since 2008 for prisoners in public prisons. This financial year over 3,700 prisoners will have access to treatment for their addictions, rising to 4,700 next year. This compares with just 234 prisoners having access to that same treatment in the final year of the previous Labour-led Government. This Government has expanded the number of specialist drug treatment units in prisons from six to nine and has significantly increased the capacity of these units. In addition, we have also introduced new brief and intermediary programmes in all prisons to ensure those prisoners who need treatment for their drug addiction receive it.
Joanne Hayes: Why is the Government focused on increasing alcohol and drug treatment in prisons?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Alcohol and drug addiction is a major driver of crime. Over half of all prisoners have addiction problems when they enter prison. If we can get them off the drugs and give them some job skills and education to find work on release, we reduce the risk of them going on to commit further crimes. That is why this Government is focused on increasing the drug and alcohol treatment in our prisons as part of our plan to reduce reoffending by 25 percent. This work is delivering results, with a reduction in reoffending of nearly 12 percent since 2011, meaning nearly 8,700 fewer victims.